What is happening to you when you have anxiety, is not always what you would connect to anxiety. You might explain it through something else, so it can be a good idea to know the symptoms of anxiety. They can all occur alone or together. Some of them aren’t always related to anxiety, but can have other causes.
Anxiety is a reaction to a stressful situation. A healthy response to a stressful situation is to talk about it and maybe find a solution, but when there’s no solution and we can’t talk about it, the brain goes into what we call high alert, which causes anxiety – a general fear of being in the world.
Maybe you didn’t learn how to deal with stressful situations when you were growing up. Maybe you were even exposed to stressful situations by your parents. Normally the brain will tell you to either fight your way out of such a situation OR run away from it, remove yourself from it. However, when we are children, we can’t always fight or run and when we experience something traumatic and/or unpleasant, the brain will remember that situation and remind you that certain people or situations are dangerous.
Maisa’s parents are having a party. There’s 10 people in their little house and they are drunk, shouting and playing loud music. Maisa is woken up by the noise and walks into the living room, where everybody is. Her father picks her up and dances around with her – but he’s drunk and he almost drops her. Maisa’s mother gets angry and starts yelling at the father. The father yells back while holding on to Maisa. Maisa is scared and holds her hands to her ears. “PUT HER DOWN” the mother screams. Maisa’s father puts her down and slaps the mother.
Maisa’s brain learns that grownups who are drunk get aggressive and negligent. If she experiences more of these situations and no one helps her to talk about how unpleasant it was for her or takes her away from it, her brain will tell her that drunk people are dangerous and she will shy away from them OR become an aggressive drunk person herself to deal with it. Both responses are a result of the fear in her and creates an anxiety response in her.
Anxiety is something happening in the brain that is meant to help you stay away from situations you cannot handle – where you can’t fight or run. So the brain is doing its job, but it might not feel like it’s serving you – because sometimes – if you’re Maisa, you would want to hang out with your friends and have a good time drinking. Maisa gets anxious when doing this and she has no alternative to the brain’s strategy.
When we want to heal the anxiety, there are a number of things we can do. Talking is one of them, because processing experiences through the frontal lobe – the part of our brain that has to do with speech and logical thinking – means you can put new perspectives on the experience.
For Maisa, it would let her realise that she is no longer a child who can’t walk away when things become unpleasant. She will realise that is no longer a powerless victim.